Addressing Change in Career Direction

By Maximillian Matthews

During my senior year of college I had a very untimely epiphany: I wanted to change my major. Being scheduled to graduate that coming spring, my realization couldn’t have occurred at a worse time. I was on track to become a high school English teacher, but had discovered my passion for serving college students. I had even completed all of my degree requirements with the exception of the mandatory student teaching. After meeting with a career advisor and an academic advisor, I learned how I could go about fulfilling my passion. Ultimately, I changed the concentration of my major so that I could graduate on time and then pursue graduate school in the field that I wanted to enter. My career change was a reflection of what is taking place in our economy and in the Millennial students with whom we work.

Meister (2012) reports that 91% of Millennials anticipate staying in a job for less than three years. According to The Future of Millennial Jobs, a 2015 report from the Young Invincibles Organization, Millennials change jobs more frequently than any other generation group. By 2025, Millennials will be 75% of the global workforce (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2012). Although data on students changing majors is scarce, Chen and Wako (2009) say that 43% of students originally enrolled in Education and 30% of those enrolled in Business switched to another degree program while in college. If changing majors may be an earlier reflection of Millennial job change, how should career counselors approach students who are interested in making a change in their career direction?

Maximize First

Counselors should encourage students to make the best of their current situation before acting on their potential change. Students should avoid being abrupt or short-sighted when it comes to important decisions such as changing career direction. It is possible that the situation will improve as they further develop their skills, learn more about their field of study, make new connections, discover other ways to apply their major, and try an internship in the field. Students should realize that not every change is of the same magnitude. Some may simply be a refinement of career focus and direction, while others may be a complete change of major and field of interest. The goal is to have students be as informed as possible about their current career direction before deciding to make a change.

Research Beyond

Students should explore their desired change in depth with those who are most familiar with the field in which they are interested. For example, meeting with faculty who are experts in the desired field, talking to students studying the field, reading books and articles, doing volunteer work related to the desired field, completing career assessments, and talking with alumni and other professionals in the field will help students to make an informed decision. Students should make as well-informed of a decision as possible, developing this as a habit which they can practice later in their careers.

Beyond exploring their desired field, students need to explore the reasons behind their desire for this change. What exactly does the student dislike about their current major and why? Is it an issue with perceived financial compensation? Does the student want more responsibility? Does the student want more independence? Are there certain talents and skills that the student worries will not be utilized? What originally attracted the student to their current major? Consulting with faculty should be considered as students reflect on these questions, as faculty can provide expertise and insight on the field with which career advisors may not be as familiar.

Reality of Change

Not only should students think introspectively about their desire for change, but they should also explore what a change in career direction will require. Before making a decision, the cost, time and effort of the potential change should be reviewed. For example, the student may need to stay in school longer (related to changing major) or consider graduate school (related to changing career direction) in order to successfully make the change. Such necessities could add up to large costs, which is why one must consider the financial requirements of a change in career direction. If the funds aren’t available, it may be necessary to postpone some actions (e.g., graduate school) until they are available.

Time To Revise

Last, students will need to revise their résumé so that it doesn’t reflect a field they don’t wish to pursue any longer. Without the appropriate updates and key words, these students could send out their résumés and receive little or no response. Any vocabulary specifically related to the previous field should be removed and the résumé revised to emphasize transferable skills related to the new field. In the event that students have accomplished some things to establish their standing in the new field (e.g., joining a professional group), such actions need to be included in the revised résumé. The student’s résumé shouldn’t have employers looking in the wrong direction from a previous focus.

A change in career direction could very well produce other benefits for students, besides the change itself. Commend students for seeking a fulfilling career rather than settling for a job that they might eventually hate. To ensure that a career is in agreement with long term goals, students should reflect on the elements of the career on a regular basis. By taking all of the aforementioned steps, students can acquire the habit of doing so. Completing research beyond the career change and pondering tough questions will be helpful for students as they encounter challenges on their jobs and attempt to find solutions. By addressing questions about their career direction now and acting on them, students will have invested into their own professional development, which should poise them for great rewards.


Allison, T. & Mugglestone, K. (2015). The Future of Millennial Jobs. Young Invincibles Organization. Retrieved from http://younginvincibles.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/FUTURE-OF-MILLENNIAL-JOBS-12.9.pdf

Chen, X., & Wako, T. (2009). Students who study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in postsecondary education. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.

Meister, J. (2012). Job Hopping Is The 'New Normal' for Millennials: Three Ways to Prevent a Human Resource Nightmare. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare

Schawbel, D. (2013). Why You Can’t Ignore Millennials. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/09/04/why-you-cant-ignore-millennials/#5173030f6c65



Maximillian Matthews


Maximillian Matthews, M.Ed., is the Associate Registrar at York Technical College in Rock Hill, SC. He holds a Master of Education in Higher Education Administration from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Elon University. He has worked in higher education for over five years. His previous experience includes academic advising, learning resources, and admissions. Maximillian can be reached at maximillian.matthews@gmail.com



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Niel Carey   on Saturday 04/02/2016 at 11:10 AM

A timely and helpful article! Many employers and HR staff that I have talked with discuss the wide range of talent and skills that millennials bring to the workplace, along with strong feelings about the roles they are wiling or not willing to accept.

Paul Timmins   on Saturday 04/02/2016 at 11:25 AM

Great article! I especially like the thought-provoking questions you've proposed in the "Research Beyond" section. Really good suggestions for helping students think about what's important to them.

Ellen Weaver Paquette   on Saturday 04/02/2016 at 04:22 PM

We all change, your perspective was refreshing as well as thoughtful.

Maximillian Matthews   on Sunday 04/03/2016 at 05:52 PM

Thank you all for your comments! I'm glad that you have found the article to be helpful, thought provoking and refreshing.

Brian Montalvo   on Monday 04/04/2016 at 09:19 AM

Maximillian - Great article! I agree with Paul. Really like the research beyond section.

Vergie Taylor   on Sunday 04/24/2016 at 03:39 PM

Very Detailed article that covers doing a lot of looking BEFORE you leap!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.